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Ankara using migration to turn up the heat on Athens

Turkey on Monday resumed its practice of allowing boats packed with migrants to depart from its coast for the Greek islands in the eastern Aegean. It was the first instance in some time that such a large number of migrants tried to enter Greek territorial waters from the Turkish coast.

Also on Monday there was a large number of airspace violations by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and naval cooperation aircraft.

According to a statement by the Hellenic Coast Guard, the migrants were thought to be on five sailing boats and four inflatable dinghies, which were detected and turned back before reaching Greek waters on several occasions.

In Athens it was seen as part of Ankara’s wider effort to maintain pressure on Greece as the increased migratory flows follow the “messages” conveyed by Turkey last week with two F-16s fighter jets that violated Greek airspace, reaching just two 2.5 nautical miles from the northern port city of Alexandroupoli. This was coupled with the incendiary rhetoric emanating from Turkey regarding the recent visit by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Washington.

Turkey also referred to Greece when it expressed its opposition to the prospects of Sweden and Finland joining NATO, arguing that it was a “mistake” to allow it to return to the military wing of the Alliance in 1980.

The resumption of migratory pressure is undoubtedly also linked to the improvement in weather conditions.

However, Monday’s large-scale attempt at entering Greece ominously recalled the incidents at the Evros land border in February 2020, when thousands of migrants tried to cross into the country at the behest of Ankara.

The mass exodus of boats on Monday carrying refugees and migrants also coincided with a large-scale Greek naval exercise, Storm 2022, which is currently under way and will be completed on May 27.

Meanwhile, Greece is waiting to see how the Turkish drilling rigs will move in the Eastern Mediterranean.

On Monday, Cyprus announced the start of drilling at Cronos-1 in Block 6 of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by the Eni-Total consortium. So far, the Turks have not specified exactly how they will proceed with drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, but Nicosia remains ready for the possibility of Turkey moving a drillship even within the Cypriot EEZ.